Craigslist is an essential tool for everything from apartment shopping to job hunting to giving away old copies of the New Yorker, but it’s next-to-impossible to find the gems amid the dirt. A few websites have popped up to fill that need, including the design-focused Tumblr Curated Craigslist started by the daughter of legendary comic artist Art Spiegelman.
Craigslist started in 1995 as a newsletter and launched as a site in 1996, and it looks pretty much the way it did then: a huge jumble of text links. As the site grew, it came to replace the local newspaper classifieds sections it modeled itself after; now it’s the world’s largest classifieds section. That has both benefits and drawbacks. Instead of going to all your local papers to comb through the classifieds, everything is now in one place–but it also attracts bait-and-switches, outright lies, expired listings, misleading labels, and all kinds of other problems that can make it hard to find the good stuff.
Craigslist itself doesn’t offer any tagging options and its categorizations can be unclear. (Why are there different sections for “computers,” “electronics,” and “cell phones”? What would a tablet with cell service be?) This means you’re left to either browse the dozens of new listings that pop up every 15 minutes, or rely on search. All that is to say, there’s a pretty obvious space for someone to take some of the work out of Craigslist.
Our new favorite is a Tumblr called Curated Craigslist, which was launched on New Year’s Day, 2014, by Nadja Spiegelman. Curated Craigslist couldn’t be more simple: a few posts a day, at most around five, each post consisting of a picture of a piece of furniture found on Craigslist, a basic description, a price, and a location. (Example descriptions: “small wood table,” “polka dot armchair,” “West Elm bookshelf.”) The items are only located in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Spiegelman promptly marks items as sold when they are no longer for sale. Each picture links to the Craigslist site.
Spiegelman is the daughter of comic artist Art Spiegelman, and has published two comics of her own for children. She might be best known for her Blown Covers project with her mother, Françoise Mouly, which collects rejected New Yorker covers (Art has drawn several of the New Yorker‘s most famous covers). Nadja lives in Paris now, and says she started Curated Craigslist out of homesickness. “I would often look at Craigslist when I missed New York. It was a way of getting a voyeuristic window into the most mundane parts of people’s lives,” she said in an email.
Nadja has a keen eye, both for design and for bargains. Hardly anything costs more than a couple hundred dollars, and many items are under $50. Aesthetically the site tends to favor mid-century modern or modern-inspired furniture, with some nods to more elaborate baroque work (there are quite a few velvet couches on the site). For 20- and 30-somethings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the site essentially takes the first several steps out of the Craigslist rummaging process. Which makes sense, considering Nadja described her taste to me as things she “can picture in my or my friends’ apartments.”
It’s far from the only site to do this; there are art projects like Craigslist Mirrors, which collects pictures of mirrors posted on the site (it’s sadder and more fascinating than it sounds) and more practical sites like Padmapper, which places apartments listed on Craigslist (and elsewhere) on a zoomable Google Maps map. And there’ll be more soon; Nadja is currently working on a new book, and briefly recruited a web developer and design enthusiast named Erica Obersi to post to the site. Obersi stopped posting earlier this month, and told me she’s looking into launching a site that’s similar to Curated Craigslist, but a little more in-depth, with articles in addition to simple links and locations other than Manhattan and Brooklyn.
There’s certainly a space for it. Craigslist has battled against releasing its data to developers. Despite Craigslist’s total lack of concern for design, the company does not want to give other developers the key to its data, even though that might result in an improved experience. (Padmapper uses a query string, a very basic way to search a database. It’s not very different from simply embedding a Craigslist search bar on its site.)
If Craigslist released an API, the site’s poor organization could be overcome. Imagine that Craigslist is a backyard shed full of junk (which it totally is). An API would be like giving a key to the shed to anyone who wants it, so they can see what’s in there and organize it however they want to. Right now, the only option is to bang on the door and ask the weird old pantsless man who lives in the shed to find you something, which he’ll do in his own way at his own speed. (More on that here.)
Curated Craigslist works so well because it is so simple; Craigslist is so hard to use that we need someone to sneak into that shed and find us the good stuff, because the good stuff is buried under thousands and thousands of broken lawnmowers and bikes without wheels and boxes of moth-eaten sweaters.